Football's a funny old game only not on TV

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The Independent Online

Two news items last week were so beautifully symmetrical that I categorically refuse to believe they were unconnected. At the same time as television chiefs were bemoaning the lack of original situation comedy, the summer conference of the Football Association passed a resolution banning the FA blazer.

A delegate hailing from Leeds, where, of course, they know a thing or two about material, convinced his colleagues that they had suffered enough abuse for their blazered image and the time had come to don a more modern suit. Our man in the next fitting room reports that the debate became quite heated.

There have been few sitcoms based on sporting themes – ostensibly because of the difficulty in depicting authentic action. But I believe the real reason is much more illustrative of our attitude to sport and, in football's case, the game's inflated view of its own importance. Yes, Prime Minister brilliantly satirised the cynicism of politics long before Rory Bremner spun himself off the Labour election bus and The Vicar of Dibley amusingly reflected mores more modern than the gentler All Gas and Gaiters. Sadly, sport seems to have disappeared into a soulless stratosphere way beyond the reach of mere comedy.

Noted writers John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, of The Good Life fame, once devised a football theme.

Feet First was the story of Midlands motor mechanic Terry Prince, who, after being discovered in local football, made the overnight transition to the League.

Terry and wife Viv had no difficulty in assuming the trappings of fame, but manager Harry Turnbull was very definitely an unreconstructed team boss. Bluff club chairman Hamilton Defries epitomised the tyrannical megalomania which tended to be attributed, I'm sure unfairly, to the thrusting tycoons who were making their way in the game at the end of the Seventies.

It was absolutely hilarious.

Thames Television made seven episodes, but only six were transmitted. What happened in the show that never made it to our screens? Did football pull the plug on Terry's career as it did on Kate Hoey's?

Soon after, Alan Bleasdale's Scully received plaudits for a six-part series on Granada. Francis Scully was a 15-year-old, whose body may have been in class, but whose head remained surreally transfixed at Anfield.

There was no more down-to-earth football man that the slipper-wearing Bob Paisley, but even he was prevailed upon to bring Scully's dreams to life. Social commentators today get sniffy about David Beckham's clobber, but never an eyebrow was raised, except probably in his own hometown, by Kenny Dalglish's appearance as a fairy, complete with wand. Elvis Costello not only appeared as Scully's nerdy brother, but also wrote a cracking theme tune.

Since then there has been little (intentional) comedy about football, though when I worked for the FA someone identified in me a comic potential rather wider than the usual insults likening me to the absurdly pompous (moi?) Captain Mainwaring. I can actually claim to have made my comedy debut in identical manner to the great Ronnie Barker, ie lying in a holiday bed. My role was The Most Serious Man In The World, so I didn't emulate Mr Barker's career in comedy.

Nor did I follow him into antiques, which brings me back to the FA councillors and their sensitivity about their image.

It would be apposite if they asked Terry Venables, himself an established television writer with Hazell (the private detective, not the Queen's Park Rangers defender), to update the sitcom which poked fun at Catholics and Jews, Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Width, by building upon the football theme successfully embraced when the Chelsea and England striker of the day, Peter Osgood, appeared.

Another writer who might inject some humour and humility into football is Alan Simpson, whose Albert Steptoe character has already unwittingly featured in a major international football incident which even the Fifa president Sepp Blatter could not resolve.

The Australian Soccer Federation head honcho David Hill called the Oceania President Charlie Dempsey "Steptoe" during a personal row a few years ago and there was considerable bemusement at Fifa headquarters in Zurich when Dempsey's complaint arrived.

I don't know why FA councillors get upset by media types criticising their blazers. After all, the blazer can be quite a dashing item of fashion, if worn with panache.

I suspect the problem really lies with the more venerable and less svelte members who did not comfortably don the leisure wear provided by the kit sponsors on tour and were gleefully spotted by said media types ambling towards the first tee with shirt firmly secured inside underpants (M&S, not CK).

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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